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David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): When the Minister says that he has consulted the Welsh Assembly, does he mean that somebody has picked up the telephone and spoken to his close political colleague, Rhodri Morgan AM, or has the Minister encouraged the Assembly to discuss the matter properly? If he had done so, he would have discovered that a majority of the Assembly opposes the council tax re-banding and could vote it down.
Mr. Miliband: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's description of the situation in Wales. He will know that in 2001 the Welsh Assembly consulted on its proposal to implement a revaluation in 2005. All political parties and the Assembly's Local Government and Public Services Committee supported the proposal. The hon. Gentleman should bear that in mind before he makes such an intervention again.
For the sake of completeness, I should also remind the House of the position in Scotland. The Scottish Executive commissioned its own independent review of local government finance in 2004. The review committee consulted on options earlier this year and will publish its report in the summer.
"We recognise the need periodically to revalue properties for the purpose of council tax . . . We support the revaluation being made on a regular and predictable basis."[Official Report, 7 January 2003; Vol. 397, c. 645.]
Her boss, the Leader of the Oppositionfor another few days at leastsaid on 20 February 2005: "You have to revalue." So the Opposition support the principle of revaluation; nothing could be clearer. But in April they decided to argue for postponement. Fair enough.
The Leader of Opposition was clear: on 20 April, he told "Sky News" that his new policy was a postponement of revaluation, not a cancellation. For the avoidance of doubt, he added "for the first
7 Nov 2005 : Column 39
Parliament", when he was questioned about the delay. So I confidently expected the Opposition to support the Bill. After all, they want to be a mature Opposition. They have been told by their young pretender to remember that actions speak louder than words. They have vowed not to oppose measures simply for the sake of opposition.
What could be simpler than voting for a Bill to postpone revaluation? They might even have claimed that we had stolen their policy.But I had overestimated the people who go by the title of Her Majesty's official Opposition. They still take the title literally: they oppose everything. They are addicted to opposition and repulsed by common sense. No wonder that John Stuart Mill called them the stupid party
What could be more stupid than an amendment claiming to denounce revaluation, but with the effect that it will go steaming aheadfor that is the effect of the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition? By opposing Second Reading, by declining to give the Bill a Second Reading, the Opposition want take the brakes off revaluation. The automated valuation model, which they spent the weekend saying was such a detestation, will be whirring like there is no tomorrow if they have their way.
The Opposition talk about supporting reform, but in the words of one of their Members, they are the roadblock to reform on this occasion. I hope that all Opposition Members realise that if they support their amendment, they will be voting for revaluation to go ahead, and we look forward to reminding them of that in the years ahead.
Sir Michael Lyons has made it clear that any proposals for reform of the funding system raise complex issues, and the Government have agreed that they need to be set firmly and explicitly within the context of a clear, shared understanding of the role of local government and of councils' accountability to service users. It is for that reason that we have extended the terms of reference for Sir Michael's inquiry into local government funding. In turn, we decided to postpone revaluation from 2007. We have recognised that to proceed with revaluation at this time would not be the right thing to do. The Bill, therefore, puts revaluation on hold, and I commend it to the House.
"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Council Tax (New Valuation Lists for England) Bill because the Bill merely delays rather than cancels the council tax revaluation, applies only to England and creates inequalities with other parts of the United Kingdom; and because the removal of the need for revaluation of domestic properties offers taxpayers no protection against the imposition of new higher council tax bands."
Were I the Minister, given the speculation in the Sunday newspapers about his position as regards the future leadership of his party and given the Chancellor's tolerance of such matters, I do not think that I would have used the words "young pretender" in this context.
However, on that brief note of solidarity with the right hon. Gentleman, I congratulate him, because only the last Blairite on the Government Benches could have delivered that speech with a straight face. It was nothing more than a panic attacknothing more than the fear of wipeout at next May's elections. The Prime Minister's credibility is apparently at stake, and his credibility is so low that he fears the result that the electorate will produce in May.
Postponement is not cancellation. I hope that I am not doing the Minister an injustice, but, frankly, to describe the reason for the postponement as a success of local area arrangements strikes me as stretching credulity. There is little doubt that the right hon. Gentleman is regarded as the Prime Minister's plenipotentiary on earth. So let us just have a touch of reality. For the convenience of the House, I have managed to collect the reaction of the specialist press to the right hon. Gentleman's announcement.
I have here a very nice photograph of the right hon. Gentleman scratching his ear from the Local Government Chronicle, which says, "Miliband on the run. Funding reform delay as minister ducks his first tough decision." It continues:
Mr. Redwood: I wonder whether the phrase is not so much "young pretender" as "Artful Dodger". Did my hon. Friend notice how none of the good points that he and other hon. Members made were answered by the Minister today? He is obviously on the run in a very serious way.
"Yet ministers have bottled-out of grasping the council funding nettle, and passed the buck to the next PM, presumably Gordon Brown or, judging by their date for the next revaluation . . . a Conservative."
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